Last week, we reported the Greene County Industrial Development Authority is in the discussion stages of developing a strategy to determine possible uses for the Mather coal refuse dump once reclamation work at the site is completed....
For about as long as most of us can remember, Americans have yearned for a third major political party, believing it would somehow cure everything they find distasteful in the quarreling and ideological bloodletting between the two major parties.
In 2016, Americans could well end up with a third party, though not in name and definitely not on any ballot. Instead, this party will rest on a bedrock not of candidates, but piles and piles of cash.
At a weekend get-together with like-minded, well-heeled friends and compatriots, it was revealed billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, who have already poured millions of dollars into American electoral politics over the last decade or so, are planning to budget $889 million for the campaigns in 2016. They will be writing checks themselves and having their friends do the same. To most of us, dollar amounts on that scale start to seem a little abstract, so here’s some perspective: In the 2012 election cycle, the Republican Party by itself spent $657 million.
Already on track to be the priciest election in our history, the Koch brothers’ expenditure will surely drive the cost to even more stratospheric levels, as candidates, parties and political action groups fight to keep pace. And, if the past is any guide, the expenditures by the Kochs’ organization will not be a model of transparency. The Washington Post reported one year ago that the organization is one of “unrivaled complexity, built around a maze of groups that cloaks its donors.”
It further described the labyrinthine network as being “singular in American politics: an operation conducted outside the campaign finance system, employing an array of groups aimed at stopping what its financiers view as government overreach.”
After a series of reforms in the 1970s, some following the Watergate scandal, campaign finance laws have been systematically weakened in recent years, with more and more money being pumped into our campaigns. When the monied have so much power over the process, it’s painfully obvious to everyone who will get their calls returned more quickly by an elected official, and it’s not a dad working three part-time jobs at minimum wage who can’t afford health care, takes the bus and is one mishap away from financial disaster.
Following the announcement of the impending deluge of dollars into the 2016 campaign, Lawrence Lessig, a professor of law at Harvard and an advocate for campaign finance reform, told Politico that “this is the natural consequence of a regime with essentially no contribution limits – a smaller and smaller number giving larger and larger amounts.”
Mark McKinnon, a Republican Party operative who wants to reduce the amount of money sloshing around in our political system, was even more blunt. He told Politico that “for that kind of money, you could buy yourself a president. Oh, right. That’s the point.”
Money is not a surefire guarantee of electoral success. The enormous sums the Kochs and their allies spent on the 2012 election did not result in President Obama being dislodged from the White House, and they had to wait another two years until the U.S. Senate changed hands. But no matter what the ideological leanings of big-money donors, allowing these expenditures to go unchecked and unregulated merely fortifies the impression that our political process is not designed to work for average Americans, but the people who write the fattest checks.
The biggest winner when money is king in our politics isn’t Democrats or Republicans. It’s cynicism.
Bill Cosby was once beloved and believed to be almost beyond reproach, but for the last couple of months an odor as overpowering as a rendering plant on a July afternoon has followed him around, thanks to the increasing number of allegations that the comedian drugged and sexually assaulted women at various times over the course of his long career.
Cosby has largely remained mum on the accusations, with his lawyers issuing heated denials. The 77-year-old continued to appear at auditoriums and concert halls throughout North America, although some venues pulled the plug on Cosby’s performances. Cosby is due back in this region Feb. 21 for a show at Heinz Hall, and some observers are urging the show’s promoters and the managers of Heinz Hall send Cosby packing.
Murrysville resident Diana Fletcher launched a petition drive on the site Change.org asking that Cosby’s appearance, at the very least, be postponed until the assertions made against him are addressed. Until then, she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “he should not be welcome in this city.”
Chrissy Costa, a Pittsburgh comedian, went a step further and said the show should be canceled. She told Pittsburgh City Paper that allowing it to proceed would send “the wrong message that it’s OK to violate women, especially if you’re a celebrity or a powerful male figure. Nothing will change if we just stand back.”
While the repulsion many feel toward Cosby is understandable, he was not charged with any crime as yet, and there’s a strong possibility he never will be, thanks to the statute of limitations having long run out on some of the claims, and there being little or no evidence in others. Even when it doesn’t involve the rich, powerful and well-connected, sexual assault remains one of the most under-reported of crimes, with 68 percent of assaults not being reported, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. And even when they are reported, the advocacy group reports, an arrest or prosecution is, more often than not, unlikely.
There’s solid reason to believe Cosby was up to no good, given the sheer preponderance of accusations. Unfortunately, it’s also probable that all of them will remain in the murky, unresolved realm of he said/she said.
Also, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra could be forced to pay off the promoters and Cosby if they walk away. Considering the symphony, like its counterparts in other cities, was beset by budget shortfalls and layoffs, the ultimate losers in dollars-and-cents terms could well be one of the region’s most esteemed cultural institutions, not Cosby.
Perhaps the best way for people to register their feelings about the performance is to simply not attend it. It’s reportedly far from a sellout, with fewer than half the available tickets sold, and any Cosby fans who have already purchased tickets but are now having second or third thoughts can get a refund.
A stronger message would be sent if the show goes on, to borrow the showbiz maxim, and Cosby emerges from the wings and finds he is facing row upon row of empty seats. For someone who has taken decades of adulation and applause for granted, that would perhaps be the hardest of all messages to receive.
Gov. Tom Wolf took his oath of office Tuesday, outlining some rather lofty goals: creating good-paying jobs, equalizing educational opportunity in public schools and providing a “government that works.” He plans to achieve these goals by levying a new tax on the gas industry,......